What is China trying to achieve: 5 experts weigh in
China’s actions along the LAC, which have gradually escalated in tone and tempo over the last few weeks, are a reflection of its growing military capabilities and its attempts to dictate the terms of engagement to India, experts say.
Vipin Narang, associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
With the Indian Army now sustaining fatalities in the tense border confrontation with China, the key question is what China’s objective is. Regardless of the tactical details and the legal and linguistic gymnastics over whether China has entered Indian “territory”, there is no question that the scope, scale and swath of Chinese pressure is unprecedented and strategic. There are many hypotheses but few definitive answers: Is this about Indian infrastructure development along the DSDBO [Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie] road? Article 370? To settle the border unilaterally on their terms through fait accompli? General assertiveness East and West? Something else? Without any definitive statements from the Chinese, we are left with much speculation. And it is when the Chinese say nothing that one should worry. The objective may become clear in due time, but one thing is clear now: The PLA came to play and they came to stay, and they are intent on making India pay.
Rajiv Bhatia, former ambassador , distinguished fellow for foreign policy studies at Gateway House:
China’s recent intrusions aim to serve three purposes: First, to stop or slow down India’s border infrastructure development, second, to restrict New Delhi to South Asia, thus reducing its ambitions for a global role, and three, to weaken the traction the Quad partnership has been gaining of late. Kathmandu and Islamabad are happy to lend a helping hand to Beijing on the second objective mentioned above. Our response has to be firm and resolute.
Nitin Pai, director of The Takshashila Institution, an independent think tank:
For Beijing, border transgressions are a cheap instrument to apply pressure on India’s political leadership. The Chinese side doesn’t tell you “why”, “why now”, and indeed what their claim actually is. By keeping New Delhi guessing as to its intentions, Beijing puts the Indian government on the back foot on lots of issues. For instance, we are now asking whether it is to pressure India to stay neutral in the WHO investigation on the origins of Covid-19, whether it is to retaliate against FDI restrictions, to coerce India on the 5G issue, to counter the Modi government’s move to change the status of Jammu and Kashmir, or indeed in response to purely military developments.
Christopher Clary, assistant professor of political science at the University at Albany, State University of New York:
China has a set of fuzzy claims all along its boundary with India, and the American scholar M Taylor Fravel has found that China historically has escalated militarily when it perceives steps taken by others erode the likelihood of China ever securing its territorial claims. In this case, Indian road- and bridge-building in the area, especially combined with Ladakh’s change to union territory status, may have led China to conclude a sharp signal might be necessary to arrest developments weakening its hold on disputed areas in eastern Ladakh.
Harsh V Pant, head of the strategic studies programme at Observer Research Foundation:
China’s actions along the LAC, which have gradually escalated in tone and tempo over the last few weeks, are a reflection of its growing military capabilities and its attempts to dictate the terms of engagement to India. First, this puts into perspective New Delhi’s inability to put its own house in order by highlighting the power differential between the two Asian powers. Simply put, China is doing this because it can today and might not tomorrow. Second, this is an attempt by China to show India its place at a time when India’s cachet has been rising globally and China’s declining on account of the backlash because of its mishandling of Covid-19. Finally, this is a pre-emptive move by China to make it difficult for India to consolidate New Delhi’s hold over strategically important Ladakh